The latest news on how long the United States will continue to wage its war in Iraq is profoundly disturbing, because of both what it says and who is saying it. The speaker is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The essence of his statement was summarized recently in the newspapers when Rumsfeld said the insurgency could go on for as long as 12 years.
This is a far cry from the initial expectations of President Bush who, early in the war years, flew to Iraq and had his arrival announced by signs that read “Mission Accomplished.” Saddam Hussein was on the run, and Bush read this to mean that, in effect, the war was over. Actually, that was the beginning of the real war, the guerrilla war fought in the streets and alleys of Iraq.
As time went by, the insurgents gathered strength as their forces grew with the flood of dedicated Muslims from all over the Islamic world. Rumsfeld’s conclusions were foreshadowed by the statement of America’s top commander for the Middle East, who declared that the overall strength of the insurgency is “about the same as it was” six months ago.
His statement was a public correction of an optimistic declaration by Vice President Dick Cheney that the rising violence in Iraq was a symptom of the desperation of the insurgents in their “death throes.”
All of which, in light of the statement by Rumsfeld that the war is likely to drag on for a dozen years, raises the question of whether this will actually happen. The answer is yes, if — and it is a big, big if — future presidents and future Congresses are a repetition of the same kind of president and Congresses we have had since the election of George Bush. But between now and 2017, there will be three presidential elections and about twice as many congressional elections.
Polls reveal that more and more Americans now believe that the war in Iraq was unnecessary and unjustifiable. They also believe that the economy is deteriorating and that it will get worse as the federal debt grows and we encounter an unbearable debt burden.
The sooner we get out of Iraq, the better. We still can leave with dignity by turning over Iraq’s future to the United Nations or to some other agency devised for the purpose. The alternative is for us to leave because we were driven out, and then we can depart with our tail between our legs.
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